Over the past week I have received literally thousands of emails from people who have read my posts on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). These e-mails are as varied in opinion as the fabric of people that weave the United States together.
Of all the emails I have read, more than 300 of them shared a common theme … people who both sought an Israeli style airport security procedure while also seeking a less intrusive airport security experience. I am sure the vast majority of these 300 people have had their opinions shaped by the 30 December 2009 article in the Toronto Star entitled the “The ‘Israelification’ of airports: High security, little bother.”
While the Toronto Star article paints an almost utopian view of how airport security should be … it leaves out certain important details that would make those seeking to limit the intrusiveness of the TSA in the United States shudder. With all the arguments regarding the TSA and Fourth Amendment rights, adopting Israeli airport security tactics would make the current state of the TSA seem like something that the late attorney William Kunstler might even approve of.
The Toronto Star article seems to indicate that on the surface Israeli airport security seems almost invisible; the reality is that it is far more blatant than invisible. For those departing from airports in Israel, Israel Airports Authority (I.A.A.) Security Division Officers stop entering cars to ask, “How are you? Where are you coming from?”
Should a response to “How are you? Where are you coming from?” not satisfy the Officers, passengers in the car may either denied entry into the airport complex, or pulled aside for further questioning. I.A.A. Security Division Officers are not looking for the usual nervous response from tourists unfamiliar with these security tactics … but some facial expression or hesitation in the voice that need not be quantified other than they didn’t like the answer. There is no appeal; there is no asking for a supervisor.
Once passengers proceed from the vehicle checkpoint to the terminal they once again encounter armed I.A.A. Security Division Officers. These officers are looking for unusual behaviours, again behaviours that need not be quantified, and should a traveler be stopped and questioned they cannot choose to leave, opt out or avoid the questioning.
Once inside a terminal at an Israeli airport before a passenger may check in, or check their baggage, they are potentially subject to a random search and interrogation, as well as a random hand search of all their baggage and possible inspection by a magnetometer.
Now … passengers may finally proceed to check in counters, but before passengers may proceed to the check in counters, all passengers must first hand their passport and travel documents to an I.A.A. Security Officer for review and a one-on-one interview. An interview may take as little as 30 second … or can result in a full interrogation lasting hours, include a full ‘real’ strip search and cavity search, as well as a complete background check and check of banking records.
Those selected for a further interrogation do not have the option of ‘opting out,’ or leaving or refusing to cooperate with the interrogation, regardless of the questions being asked. Once a traveler has been stopped for questioning at this juncture, like all previous junctures, they cannot leave; their rights have essentially been suspended.
While the I.A.A.’s goal is to transition passengers from curb to the gate area in under thirty minutes, there are a significant number of ‘innocent’ passengers that find themselves being interrogated for an extended period if time, and others who find themselves being strip searched.
One such example of these searches would be Hedy Epstein, from Saint Louis, a holocaust survivor, who found herself being strip searched at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport after authorities questioned her regarding her visit to the historical cities of Bethlehem and Qalqilya, both of which are in Palestinian controlled areas. This elderly woman, who lost both her parents to the concentration camps, had no recourse but to comply completely with the interrogation and strip search. The alternative was to be arrested for her failure to comply, at which point she’d be subject to the same search and interrogation.
There is no argument that Israel’s airport security in by far the most effective in the world. Israel’s airport security not only incorporates the human element of traveler intelligence gathering, as well as the technology of screening … but also the physical architecture of the airports it exists in.
The United States and TSA can adapt and adopt security concepts from Israel, however the largest obstacles to overcome are not fourth amendment rights issues. In the United States the TSA has proven time and time again to be reactionary rather than proactive, as well it has proven to not create security protocols to enhance aviation security based on the actual threat scenarios developed by its own expert analysts. In Israel people trust those in charge of aviation security … in the United States we deeply distrust and fear those responsible for securing our airports.
So for those people who have written me, and even those who have not, who are stating that they want both reduced intrusion from the TSA and want the TSA to adopt Israeli style airport security … it cannot happen … and it certainly cannot happen at this point in time.